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Verhoef, Pieter A. The Books of Haggai and Malachi. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 364 pp. Pb; $40.   Link to Eerdmans

Pieter Verhoef’s commentary on Haggai and Malachi was originally published in 1987 as part of the NICOT series. Verhoef was replaced in the series by Mignon R. Jacobs in 2017 (reviewed here). Still a valuable and oft-cited commentary, Eerdmans has moved this to their Classic Bible Commentaries series.

The Haggai commentary runs about 150 pages, Malachi about 200 pages. Since Verhoef is South African scholar he interacts with more South African, Dutch, and German secondary literature than most commentaries published in North America. Most of the bibliography pre-dates 1984, but this is less of a problem since there have been only a few major commentaries in the last 35 years on these two obscure prophetic books. Until Mignon R. Jacobs replacement volume in the NICOT, the best commentaries for these books were Carol L. Meyers and Eric M. Meyers on Haggai and Andrew E. Hill on Malachi (both in the Anchor series), Richard A. Taylor on Haggai and Malachi (NAC) and Hans Walter Wolff  in the Continental series (published in 1986 in German; 1987 in English).

For both books, Verhoef provides an introduction with the usual introductory material. Not much can be said about the prophets as individuals, and Malachi may not even be the name of the prophet (the name means “my messenger” and can be understood as a title rather than a personal name). For both books Verhoef deals with matters of authorship and unity, concluding the books do reflect the preaching of a real prophet and arguing for the unity of the over against source-critical theories.

Verhoef places each book into the context of Ezra-Nehemiah. For Haggai, he is active prior to the restoration of the Temple and his prophecies are dated to 520 B.C. For Verhoef, Malachi is likely the last prophetic voice in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet was active between the two visits of Nehemiah, shortly after 433 B.C. In his sketches of the background of these two prophets, Verhoef provides the necessary context to understand the prophetic encouragement to restore the Temple and for the people to devote themselves to wholehearted obedience.

The body of the commentary begins each section with a translation of the pericope with detailed notes on the text (citing variations found in the LXX, Peshitta, Targumim and Vulgate). A short section follows setting the pericope into the context of the book, then Verhoef proceeds through the text phrase-by-phrase. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and he often deals with matters of syntax and grammar. Footnotes cite secondary literature, although he often agrees with various commentaries on a particular issue.

One of the main problems in Haggai is the status of Zerubbabel as the Lord’s signet ring (Hag 2:20-23). These final words of the book are often described as an apocalyptic hope for the restoration of the kingdom of David. If this is true, then Haggai appears to be a failed prophet since there is no restoration of a Davidic Kingdom and Zerubbabel more or less disappears from the history after 520. Verhoef deals with this problem by reading Haggai 2:20-23 as a kind of typology foreshadowing the first and second coming of Christ (p. 149).

Verhoef reads these two prophets from a Christian perspective, often drawing some conclusion at the end of a section which illuminates the New Testament. Some scholars would say Haggai has no Christian theology, a view Verhoef strenuously denies. For example, in dealing with marriage and divorce in Malachi 2:10-16, he comments briefly on Jesus’s view of divorce in Matthew 19 as well as Paul’s teaching on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and the “profound mystery of marriage” in Ephesians 5:22-33.  Although these short conclusions are not really “guides for preaching Haggai,” they do serve as canonical bridges, opening up the possibility of a Christian reading of these two prophetic books.

There are not many exegetical commentaries on Haggai or Malachi. Unfortunately commentaries in the Minor Prophets are often brief and published in one or two volumes. Although now an older work, Verhoef’s commentary on these two overlooked prophets remains a valuable resource for students of the Minor Prophets and the early post-exilic period.

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Scheck, Thomas, ed. Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets: Volume 1, Ancient Christian Texts by Jerome. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. Link to IVP

This new contribution to the Ancient Christian Texts series is the first of three volumes collecting Jerome’s commentaries on the twelve Minor Prophets. Jerome (c. 347-419/20) is primarily known for his Latin translation of the Bible (The Vulgate), but he was also a prolific commentator on biblical books. He was thoroughly familiar with Jewish traditions and brought them to bear on his understanding of the Old Testament. Beginning in 379, Jerome used his considerable linguistic skills to translate Origen’s commentaries and, eventually, to translate and comment on Scripture himself.

Image result for Scheck, Thomas, ed. Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets: Volume 1,According to the introduction, in 392 Jerome wrote his commentary on Nahum, the first of his commentaries on the twelve Minor Prophets. In the next year he finished commentaries Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai and Habakkuk, Jonah and Obadiah were completed in 396 following the Originist Controversy. In the mid-390s a petition circulated to have Origen declared a heretic. Although he translated Origen’s work and was an advocate of his work, Jerome signed this petition and became an outspoken opponent of Origen. Scheck says this can be seen by “occasional outbursts” against origin in the commentaries beginning with Jonah. Nevertheless, Jerome possessed Origen’s twenty-five book commentary on the Minor Prophets “which I hug and guard with such joy, that I deem myself to have the wealth of Croesus” (xxii).

The commentaries are presented in the order Jerome wrote them and a table in the introduction identifies the year he completed each commentary (xvi) and a second table includes order of the commentaries along with Jerome’s other commentaries and his translations of Origen. In preparing these commentaries, Jerome used the text of the Hebrew Bible as his main source, but also the LXX and Origin’s commentaries on the Minor Prophets. The translations were originally made by classics students from Ave Maria University under the direction of Thomas Scheck. The original translators are identified at the head of each commentary. Scheck carefully edited these translations into the final form found in this volume.

A key feature of Jerome’s commentaries is his frequent allusion to both the Old and New Testament. These are identified in the notes and virtually every pages of this volume has at least several allusions to biblical texts. As Scheck suggests, Jerome understood as a unity and thought the best commentary on Scripture is Scripture itself (xxiv). Following Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Bible he usually gives the Septuagint, commenting on any differences. For example, commenting on Zephaniah 2:3-4, Jerome translates the Hebrew “Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, you who have worked his judgment, seek the just seek the meek,” and the LXX as “seek the Lord, all the humble of the earth, work judgment and seek justice.” The LXX reading is interpreted as a reference to “no one else by Christ” because everyone who seeks him will find him, citing Matthew 7:8. This is typical of the commentaries, they are thoroughly Christocentric.

An important feature of this volume is the indices. The first collects references in the text (and footnotes) to historical allusions (the Ebionites, Origen, etc.) or to other translations (Symmachus and Theodotion, for example).  There are about ten pages ion the Scripture including allusions to Sirach.

Aside from historical interests, what is the value of reading a 1600 year old commentary on the Minor Prophets? There are a number of allegorical interpretations which attempt to focus a text on Christ or the church which seem to go well beyond the results of a grammatical historical method. For example, commenting on Haggai 2:19-20, Jerome take the pomegranate as a reference to the church. In order to make this point, he alludes to the Song of Solomon 8:1, the bride’s cheeks are compared to a pomegranate and the bride in the Song is allegorical interpreted as the Church. The olive tree in Haggai 2:20 refers to the illumination of Scripture, presumably because olive oil was used in lamps. Modern interpreters would be content to (correctly) read Haggai 2:19-20 as a reference to prosperity returning to the land (when pomegranates and olive trees will flourish again).

This may be an extreme example, but Jerome’s method of reading a given text alongside other texts is a kind of Christological intertextuality which flattens the canon and often creates observations which would be ignored by the traditional grammatical historical method. Perhaps there is good reason to draw two or three texts together as Jerome does, but sometimes the interpretations are strained beyond what my modern mind can bear.

Nevertheless, IVP Academic is to be applauded for once again providing these commentaries to English readers. Like other volumes in the series, the book itself is well-designed and reader friendly.

 

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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